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The secret fan | PSG v Monaco, Ligue 1

  • Heightened security understandable, but ticket-scanning problem creates hold-up
  • Stadium app offers replays, gaming links and taxi ordering service
  • Authenticity of fans is club’s trump card

The primary virtue of existentialism is thought to be authenticity. Maybe that’s why the French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus, when once asked if he preferred the theatre or football, answered: “Football, without hesitation.”

Every pub-quizzer knows that Camus was, of course, a goalkeeper. He played for Racing Universitaire d’Alger and is said to have loved the sense of camaraderie, team spirit and fraternity that exists in every football team.

It was those age-old principles that were shaken in 2011 when Paris Saint-Germain was taken over by Qatar Sports Investment. In an instant, PSG morphed from a perennial ‘also-ran’ into being one of the richest clubs in the world. The rest of French football wanted to throw in la serviette.  

“They’re on millionaires’ row and we’re in the slums,” cried the president of one of their rivals, while another claimed that, from then on, finishing second would be akin to winning a trophy. Surely, within five years, PSG would win the Uefa Champions League. However, six years later, despite winning four league titles in a row, the biggest prize continues to elude the nouveau riche.

Managing these incredibly high expectations is therefore a challenge for Les Rouge-et-Bleu on the pitch, but how have the new owners changed the experience off it?

We joined a sell-out crowd at the club’s January 29 game with AS Monaco to find out.

Getting there

Getting to the Parc des Princes was relatively easy. For us, a quick combination of three Metro lines and nine stops took us from La Tour Maubourg to Porte de Saint-Cloud, from where Taillibert’s distinctive avant-garde armadillo structure immediately drew our gaze.

Ninety minutes before kick-off, the stadium’s outer security cordon – some 300 yards from the arena – was lifted and, after a quick drink of Stella Artois in the nearby Le Jean Bouin bar, we set off for the stadium to discover that there were four more. First, we passed a checkpoint where our tickets were checked and we were asked to open our coats for inspection. Then we were stopped at a narrow passage between the ticket office and the Megastore for a further security check.

After visiting the Megastore we then had to show ID and tickets to access the area in front of section K of the stadium and, after scanning our tickets and accessing the concourse, we would be frisked by another line of security personnel before having our tickets checked again as we walked up the steps to our stand.

We didn’t begrudge the thoroughness given the context of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. In fact, what stood out was the noticeably charming and welcoming attitude of all of the people we encountered. What we didn’t like quite as much was the fact that after making our way to the turnstile, our ticket print out wouldn’t scan. Two young assistants came to our aid and tried every which way to get our piece of paper to play nicely. But it wouldn’t. We would have to go back through two security check points to the ticket office and ask them to print our tickets off again.

At first, one of the assistants offered to accompany us, when he realised we were not from these parts, but upon turning around to thank him, he was gone so we took a deep breath and slowly worked our way back against an increasing number of fans through two increasingly busy checkpoints, via the ticket office (very charming people) and back again. It took 30 minutes.

When our papers scanned and produced our little tickets, I almost cried with joy. But I couldn’t fault the security team’s warmth and charm, nor the efforts of the guy at the information desk, who advised us on ways to get the best out of our visit.

Choices

Being of advanced years, the toilets were the first facility to be experienced, within seconds of arrival. They were spotless and of a sufficient size that there were no queues. Back upstairs, the refreshments teams – one to the left selling crepes and a bigger team to the right selling a full range of food and drink – were poised to serve. The food choices were more than sufficient. We chose hot dogs, although at €6 ($6.40) each these weren’t cheap.

No local would have been surprised by the presence of a Sandwich de Poulet and a Viennois au Thon, but the sight of freshly prepared sandwiches made my heart leap when my usual expectation is heart burn.

But the ticker recovered its poise moments later as we were met by a charming member of the Accueil Team and accompanied right to our seats. There were three hosts waiting at the top of the steps, smiling and engaging. We felt like guests.

Inside the stadium, relaxed and replete, albeit with a surprising lack of legroom, we played with PSG’s Stadium App. It gives you replays of the action, in slow motion and multi-angle too; live stats; gaming links; your mobile ticket and even a taxi-reservation service.

Even though we had not gone through the usual ticket purchase process, there was a poster promoting the app in the concourse, right next to one of the stand access points and near a very handy mobile phone charger, ensuring that first-timers like us didn’t miss the opportunity to engage.

Authenticity

The pre-match experience was immersive. Camus’ wished-for authenticity is preserved here. At each end of the stadium, the home fans kept up the flag waving and the singing. At times, a captivating ‘call and response’ echoed back and forth from one end of the stadium to the other in a way that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Les Monégasques in the corner were just as colourful. 

Beginning every announcement with ‘Dear Supporters’ (which I thought was a nice touch) the PA announcer resisted the temptation to overdo it, allowing the crowd to create their own thing. The two levels of LED perimeter boards shared the night’s starting XIs while the Fan Cam did the rounds, to the delight of those fans who were featured. The club had left a PSG flag on every seat so, pre-match; we could become, like our new friends, fiers de nos couleurs.

Dry ice billowed out from the tunnel and out ran Ronaldinho – a big star here before he became a global one at FC Barcelona – to perform the ceremonial ‘kick off’. That I’d not seen before. Neither had I seen perimeter boards welcoming in the Chinese New Year in the original Mandarin characters.

Many of the home fans would have left the game slightly deflated after Cavani’s late penalty was cancelled out by an injury-time Monaco equaliser, but for us, insulated against any possible disappointment by our ‘newness’, the feelings were much more positive.

What we found at the Parc des Princes was a good balance of innovation and authenticity: there’s no doubting that the atmosphere is what you should come for and, rather than smothering it with too much artifice and activation, the club simply seasons it.

The warmth of the Accueil team, the gentle offers of help from the Megastore floor walkers and the little digital enhancements that ticked each new generation’s boxes all combined to deliver an experience that we’ll want to repeat again soon.

Like putting fresh thyme in your Soupe a l’Oignon or a dash of Noilly Prat in your Riz de Veau, you don’t mess with the original recipe too much in Paris.

Camus would be proud.

Extract from refreshments menu:

• Hot dog (traditional or chicken) – €6
• Cheeseburger – €6
• Baguette-style Sandwiches (Viennois au Thon or Poulet) – #5
• Sandwich and drink deal – €8.30
• Soft drinks – €3.50
• Confectionery (inc. Haribo, M&Ms, etc.) – €3.50 / €4

Ratings:

Ease 7/10

The security cordons are well organised and the checks sensitively handled, but our experience suggests more could be done when things don’t go to plan, as the subsequent hold-up meant that, even though we’d arrived 90 minutes before kick off, we ended up entering the stadium with only 10-15 minutes to spare.

Value 9/10

‘Being easy to do business with’ is one of the two key definitions of good customer service, but the one that has the biggest impact on customer loyalty and advocacy is the quality of personal interaction and, from our experience at the Parc des Princes, this is clearly a real strength. When you consider the increased security and its potential to create frustration, the club has done a fantastic job in developing a team with such charm, warmth and friendliness. The Accueil, Megastore and Security teams were a credit to the club.

Recommendation 9/10

To quote Camus: ‘Sans hesitation’.

Overview:

Paris Saint-Germain FC play at the Parc des Princes stadium, which is located in the 16th arrondissement in the south-west of the city. The stadium holds 48,583 spectators.

Tickets from €25 per person.

Transport: Porte de Saint-Cloud Metro station can be reached in around 30-40 minutes from central Paris. It is then a short five-minute walk to the stadium.

For more information, visit www.psg.fr.

Mark Bradley is the founder of the Fan Experience Company, an organisation that provides consultancy services to sports teams and institutions looking to improve the way they engage with and retain their fans. He has also written extensively about customer service excellence and is an accomplished speaker on the subject. Follow @FanExperienceCo on Twitter.

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